Problem

Repressed memories

Other Names:
Suppressed memories of abuse
Nature:

Repressed memories are memories that have been unconsciously blocked due to the memory being associated with a high level of stress or trauma. The theory postulates that even though the individual cannot recall the memory, it may still be affecting them subconsciously, and that these memories can emerge later into the consciousness. Ideas on repressed memory hiding trauma from awareness were an important part of Sigmund Freud's early work on psychoanalysis. He later took a different view.

The existence of repressed memories is an extremely controversial topic in psychology; although some studies have concluded that it can occur in a varying but generally small percentage of victims of trauma, many other studies dispute its existence entirely. Some psychologists support the theory of repressed memories and claim that repressed memories can be recovered through therapy, but most psychologists argue that this is in fact rather a process through which false memories are created by blending actual memories and outside influences. One study concluded that repressed memories were a cultural symptom for want of written proof of their existence before the nineteenth century, but its results were disputed by some psychologists, and a work discussing a repressed memory from 1786 was eventually acknowledged, though the others stand by their hypothesis.

According to the American Psychological Association, it is not possible to distinguish repressed memories from false ones without corroborating evidence. The term repressed memory is sometimes compared to the term dissociative amnesia, which is defined in the DSM-V as an "inability to recall autobiographical information. This amnesia may be localized (i.e., an event or period of time), selective (i.e., a specific aspect of an event), or generalized (i.e., identity and life history)."

According to the Mayo Clinic, amnesia refers to any instance in which memories stored in the long-term memory are completely or partially forgotten, usually due to brain injury. According to proponents of the existence of repressed memories, such memories can be recovered years or decades after the event, most often spontaneously, triggered by a particular smell, taste, or other identifier related to the lost memory, or via suggestion during psychotherapy.

Incidence:
One study demonstrated of 100 women with a documented medical history of child abuse as children showed that 38% were unable to recall that abuse 17 years later. In the USA in 1993 it was reported that millions of dollars in insurance payments was underwriting years of therapy for thousands of patients who claim to have recovered memories of childhood abuse. The therapy may have been sought for other purposes supposedly quite unrelated to past abuse. Such recovery was virtually non-existent in the 1970s and is having a profound effect on the legal system. The statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse has been withdrawn in many states in the USA leading to criminal charges with awards up to $5 million.
Counter Claim:
It is questionable how much trust can be placed in memories of abuse that appear to emerge years later. Many cases indicate that the memories are confused with dreams and fantasy or can mix up the personalities involved.
Values:
Abuse
Repression
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
07.07.1999 – 00:00 CEST